It’s not exactly a surprise that smartphones’ and tablets’ place in the modern digital lifestyle has been bringing in text-based communication and pushing out voice calls in many people’s lives—including mine. I’ve gotten to the point where I really hate getting phone calls these days and much prefer the text-based medium where I can take my time with what I type. Though I’m a generation older than millennials, I suspect many of them feel the same way, if not more so.
But that propensity to prefer text can also put you in the way of a scam. In my case, I had been looking for full-time employment recently, and have resumes out on various job sites. The other day I got a text message from a random residential phone number saying they’d found me on one of those sites, asking if I was still looking for work, and wanting to know if I had a Google Hangouts account for an interview.
Curious, I connected to the Hangouts account they provided, and over the next half hour the person I spoke to interviewed me. She started out by asking me to look over the website of the company she claimed to represent for ten minutes (a reputable international insurance agency) and then asked me some of the usual sort of interview questions. Then she told me they’d decided to hire me.
She promised me a ridiculously high $25-an-hour salary for doing phone customer service work from home. Then she said they’d be sending me a check to cover the cost of equipment, and I should deposit it in an ATM and send them a copy of the receipt before buying my equipment.
By the time the interview was over, the whole thing was really starting to smell. I discussed the incident with some friends, and a bit of quick research turned up a few pages going over the nature of the scam—most notably this discussion on Indeed and a piece on Military Hire which sums it up most succinctly:
The next step comes when they want you to buy the necessary equipment to set up your home office. They will send you a check to cover expenses. The check will be large. Probably over $1000. They will demand that as soon as your bank will give you the money from the check, that you withdraw it in cash and then wire the money or deposit it into another account at another bank. They will make up some elaborate story for why this needs to be done.
What you probably don’t realize is that your bank will make the funds available to you well before the check has really cleared. The scammers entire plan involves getting you to send the cash somewhere before the check bounces. When it does bounce several days later, you will be left on the losing end. The cash is gone and the bank will hold you responsible for the money. After all, you did withdraw the cash.
Thus armed with the truth, I severed all ties and blocked the phone number and Hangouts account, and went on with my life. But then I got another text from a different number this morning, trying to pull the same scam on me for a different company. This got me to wondering just how widespread these scams really are, if I could get hit with the same one twice over the course of just a week or so. If it could happen to me, it could happen to anyone, so I thought it would be a good idea to help spread the word.
The moral of the story is, be very suspicious of any job offer that deviates from the norm. I have never yet had a legitimate job offer that didn’t start with a phone call, continue with several more phone calls, and possibly culminate in an in-person interview before the hiring decision came down.
I’ve certainly never had one that was conducted entirely by text chat with an offer to hire me right then and there. Even though I really do prefer text chats to phone calls, I’ve accepted that potential employers don’t, and so will take as many phone calls as it takes without complaint—and will definitely cast a gimlet eye on any offer that comes in the form of text chat.
But the thing is, even though it stank to high heaven, I wanted to believe it, if only because the job search had been so long and frustrating. I won’t say that I would have gone ahead to the point of withdrawing the cash and sending it in if my friends hadn’t turned up those articles, but I would have continued living in that hope for as long as I could. And other people who might not be prepared to be quite so suspicious might get roped in all the way.
The nature of this sort of scam is to prey on desperate people—and who’s more desperate than someone who’s been job-hunting for months and is slowly watching his money trickle away? No matter how desperate you might be, don’t be so credulous that you let someone con you out of your money. Beware of the chat-based job interview hustle.
And while you’re at it, keep an eye out for these other forms of smartphone-based scam, too. Phishing, look-alike apps, and “tech support specialist” phone scams aren’t any harder to fall for when they come in over your smartphone than over your computer or telephone.